Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

Laura Kuenssberg was right. Even my husband agreed, and he often throws soiled beermats from an unknown source (which he uses to stop his whisky glass making rings on the furniture) at her -- at least, when she is on television. She had just used the word narrative and then felt obliged to say 'if you want to use that terrible phrase'.

I don't, but a lot of people do. I'm afraid the word has escaped from the jungle of structuralism, post-structuralism and Marxist theory. It is one of those notions that are often employed, in France particularly, as an alternative to cobblestones in the class struggle. Narrative, after snoozing for centuries in Scottish law tomes, was picked up by Roland Barthes in 1966, or rather he used récit the French word for narrative. 'Innombrables sont les récits du monde,' he said as the Gauloises smoke swirled. His narrative was the way of telling things: the Whig version of history is a narrative, as is a biography of Camus.

There are meta-narratives too, otherwise known as master narratives or grand narratives, popularised in 1979 by Jean François Lyotard, who hated them because he said they didn't exist. …

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